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Thompson’s Lost plimsole

Part 19

Dawn the following morning brought a little less cloud with it, but it was bitterly cold, and the new boys would have two hours of intensive training ahead of them before breakfast. A short briefing followed by a brisk walk around the field where they would take off and land. The ground crew had been out the day before, battering down any clods of grass that had been thrown up by previous landings. A few planes had recently returned so badly beaten up that they had virtually broken up on landing. One plane had somersaulted on touch down, churning one end of the field to a muddy pulp before coming to a halt upside down. The young pilot had broken his neck and now it would be Captain Twist’s duty, yet again, to write to the boy’s parents. So many letters, so many lies, but you couldn’t tell their families the truth, at least not the whole truth. Every single one of them a hero, a credit to the Corps.   Seventeen and a half hours was the average time that a young pilot would spend in the air before being shot down or killed. Such a short time to become a hero, or a statistic.  Lt Bayes demonstrated the various gestures and signals that the men would have to look out for in order to follow his lead and made sure that the new boys had committed them to memory. All five planes were warming up and ticking over, and all ground crew were standing by. “This is a training session” said Lt Bayes, “Follow my lead and do as I do. I don’t want to see any clever antics when we are up there and no breaking formation. The old farm building at the end of the field will be our target. Make sure the chap in front is out of your way and then give it two short bursts, no more, otherwise you are simply wasting ammunition and leaving yourselves open to attack. You will eventually be fighting against an experienced enemy who knows full well when a fellow is out of ammo. Are there any questions before we set off?”. “What if we see any enemy kites up there?” This question came from Captain Twist’s younger brother, Robert. Lt Bayes answered, “There have been no reports of enemy planes in this sector, and even if we do spot any, then it will be your duty to get back to the airfield. Under no circumstances will you engage with the enemy until you are ordered to do so, do I make myself clear?” Robert nodded his head but then came back with another remark. “But surely that’s what we are here for isn’t it, to engage the enemy and kill them”.  Lt Bayes answered through gritted teeth. “Have you ever killed a man?” He waited for an answer, “Well, have you? “No, Sir” came the reply, “But aren’t we…? Robert was cut off short. “Don’t be so bloody eager to kill another human being, your opportunity to face death will come soon enough. Right, go through your checks and then wait for my signal”.  Robert Twist was seething inside, this wasn’t what he’d signed up for, wasn’t the training that he’d already received good enough? He’d been a star cadet and had impressed his superiors at flying school. Now all he really wanted to do was impress his older brother and to make him proud. Soon all five planes were in the air, single file, climbing ever upwards.

Lt Bayes remembered a conversation that he’d had with his friend, Captain Twist. Normally one to keep everything close to his chest, Charles had opened up to him one evening after a heavy drinking session. “You know what the problem is don’t you, Roger, these young officers coming over to France, think that they know it all. It’s all fine and dandy impressing the brass hats back home whilst flying around in a Farman or some other clapped out piece of antiquated junk, but this is where the real action is, not the green field of merry old England!”

Lt Bayes straightened out at four thousand feet, then went into a tight turn and brought the team down again to three thousand feet before climbing again and straightening out. Lt Bayes took the men through a series of manoeuvres and then led them towards one of the Corps’ observation balloons. Leading his team high above the balloon, he banked his plane and then drove it towards this static target. At around fifty feet, Lt Bayes pulled back on his joystick and then banked away hard. If this had been a real attack, then by now, the crew of the balloon would be dead or parachuting to safety. Lt Bayes noted the confidence with which his trainees were following his every move. Now he would take them in to attack the old farm building, then a landing back at base and a debrief, followed by a well earned breakfast.

Lt Bayes came in for the attack first, pouring two quick bursts into what was left of the roof of the derelict barn. He was followed closely by the rest of his team, all firing in turn, the required two short bursts with varying degrees of accuracy. The last to fire was Robert Twist, who, having grown tired of the idea of all of this extra training, and in order to impress, decided to keep his finger on the trigger and took away the last remnants of roof tiles from the old barn. However, his finger was still on the trigger as he pulled out of the dive which resulted in several bullets ripping into the tail and fuel tank of the Sopwith in front of him.

An hour earlier, Charles Twist had taken a call from HQ  advising him of his promotion to Major and that he was to take over as Squadron Commander with immediate effect.

Luckily, for Robert Twist, the damaged Sopwith had been able to land without any major problems or injury to its pilot, but Lt Bayes would have to report this incident.

Charles let his brother stew for the rest of the day and then sent for him. Word had already circulated around the camp about Charles’s promotion, so Robert thought he’d soften his brother up by congratulating him. It didn’t work.  “I’m fining you two weeks wages and tonight you’ll buy drinks for everyone in the mess. You will also buy drinks for the mechanics and you will apologise to them as well”. Robert tried to bluster out a reply, but he was cut off. Charles continued, “Those mechanics will have to work through the night to get that Sopwith back in service and I’ll be speaking to them in the morning.  If you haven’t apologised to them, I’ll fine you another two weeks wages. Now, dismiss”.  Once again, Robert tried to speak, “But…”, “Get out! Before I knock you out!”.  Robert slunk away from his brother’s tent and then spent the rest of the evening sulking in the corner of the mess tent whilst everyone around him got uproariously drunk.

Two week later, Major Twist decided that the time was ripe for him to accompany his men on an observation mission. Reports had come in about a temporary enemy airfield five miles away that was in the process of being set up and supplied. There had also been numerous reports about a recently formed squadron of crack German aces led by Count Jurgen Von Blau, known affectionately by his men as Das Blau Dӓmon (The Blue Demon). This man alone had accounted for sixty-three allied pilots and six observation balloons plus their occupants. Observers were equipped with parachutes and could jump to safety, but observers were highly trained and would soon be up in a replacement balloon, or not, if Von Blau was doing the attacking.

At six thousand feet it was virtually impossible to make out any details of this supposed enemy airfield as it had, of course, been artfully camouflaged. At eight thousand feet, a flight of German Albatros spied the Sopwiths below them but continued circling above. In that instant, the flack opened up. Lumps of shrapnel flying everywhere, shredding canvas and cutting wires. Major Twist took his squadron up to seven thousand feet and closer to the enemy circling above them.  At least a dozen brightly painted Albatros. Each one painted dark blue, but with its own distinctive and differently coloured stripes, like the heraldic shields of Knights of old. Leading them in a similarly painted Albatros was the Blue Demon himself, however, the tips of his wings, the tail and the undercarriage were all painted gold. There was no point in trying to evade the butcher, Von Blau, so the Major gave the signal for the formation to split. Von Blau now saw the opportunity to up his tally and the law of the jungle dictated that he would pick off the weakest first.

To be continued:


Published by crispinunderfelt

All round good egg. Humanist and red wine drinker.

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